Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav: “The Old Songs Are Still Relevant Today”

The image of Public Enemy conjures thoughts of militant politics and street-bred revolution. But even with song titles like Fight the Power and classic music videos prominently featuring the band’s personal protection force, the Security of the First World (S1Ws), they’re entertainers to the core.

So much so that what is arguably their most accomplished and revolutionary album, 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet, was designed with the kind of cacophonous force and velocity – now trademarks of “the Public Enemy sound” – that would result in a more dynamic and energetic live show.

Ahead of PE’s Australian tour, Music Feeds spoke with the man who oversees their entertainment division, Flavor Flav, who told us about what the PE of 2014 is doing differently and how a TV magician drastically altered one of his trademarks – he even had his own S1W on the line with him.

Music Feeds: Flav, thank-you so much for your time. How are you doing?

Flavor Flav: Like a coat in the closet, hanging in there.

MF: You guys recently added a second Melbourne show to your Australian tour, were you guys surprised by the reaction from Australian fans?

FF: You know what? Honestly, to tell you the truth, I didn’t even know. You just let me know! I’ve been running around taking care of stuff here, you know? My road manager hasn’t communicated that one to me yet. But if we do have a second show…you said in Melbourne?

MF: That’s right.

FF: You know what? I always love Melbourne. Are we playing at that theatre? That theatre place again? What was the name of that…?

MF: It’s the Corner Hotel, I believe.

FF: Let me look at my…

Assistant: You’re playing at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Flav. I’m pretty sure it’s sold out.

FF: Woooow! Okay, I’m looking at my schedule here. What’s that? The Golden Plains Festival?

Assistant: No, you’re playing at…

FF: We’ve got Golden Plains and then also we have yep, we got the Corner Hotel! Let me tell you something, I love Melbourne. I love me some Melbourne and I can’t wait to get back to Melbourne and when I’m in Melbourne I always go down to that casino. The Royal? The Royale?

MF: The Crown Casino…

FF: The Croooooooown! That’s right. Gettin’ down with the Crown, gettin’ down with the Crown [laughs]

MF: What has your relationship with Australian audiences been like through the years?

FF: Amazing. I’ve only got one word for it: amazing. And not only that, but also I just wanna thank the die hard fans too that we have over there. You know, we never never had a bad relationship with an Australian audience ever. And not only that, but I feel our Australian audiences are building up even more now being that I’m hit television.

MF: Can you describe what the Public Enemy live experience is like these days for people who perhaps haven’t seen it? Is it still the people in cages and the Black Panthers lining the stage?

FF: Well we still have our S1Ws and our DJ Lord is incredible. We’ve got a live band that is out of this world. But then also me and Chuck still have that energy that we’ve always had since 1987. You know what I’m saying? The only thing that I can say is that when you come to the show, just be prepared to come home smilin’ and sweatin’.

MF: And the clock is still pointing straight up?

FF: Uh, nah, right now I’ve got the clock on four-thirty and the reason why is because I have a friend here in the United States whose name is Criss Angel and he did a trick with me involving the time four-thirty and that trick flipped me out so bad, boy I could not take my clock off four-thirty. I just left it on there and that’s because of amusement and amazement.

Watch: Criss Angel: Mindfreak – Flavor Flav Clock Trick

MF: What goes into putting together a setlist, taking into account the fact that you guys have so many songs and so many of them were written during a specific time? What’s the thought process behind that?

FF: Well honestly, to tell you the truth, Chuck D’s thought. And the reason why I say Chuck D’s thought is because there’s certain songs Chuck loves to perform and we perform our biggest records, our biggest hits and everything, but being that Chuck D is the lead vocalist…he’s the one that really carries the group. I always say, ‘Whatever songs you wanna do, Chuck. I’m with you. As long as we got a few Flava Flav songs up in there, let’s get it in.’

MF: Do you feel like many of the old tracks are still relevant today or do you guys play them more as crowd favourites?

FF: Nah, they still hold a certain relevance. They hold a big relevance today, still. Not only that but every time we perform them, we still get the feeling like we’re performing them for the first time. I always get excited to hit the stage and put smiles on my audience’s face with the records that we’ve made.

And not only that, but some of the records that we’ve made have become my most favourite records in the world and even to perform as well, you know, like Rebel Without a Pause and Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos and Fight the Power, 911 is a Joke, Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man, these are the songs that we still perform today and it feels like our first time to me, every time that we do it.

MF: What is the Public Enemy of today saying that’s different from the Public Enemy of your first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show?

FF: Well the only thing that we’re saying different is what’s current today, you know? Because yesterday when we made the album, time was different and people were living different and people were doing different things. Now time has changed since Yo! Bum Rush The Show, so things are gonna be different because it has to be current, it has to be up to date. That’s the only difference. We’re still the same old guys out here, doing what we do.

MF: Can you describe the process behind Get Up Stand Up? How did you get together with Brother Ali and what motivated releasing it the way you guys did, through BitTorrent?

FF: That would be a question for Chuck D. He’s the one that orchestrated that. He’s the one that wrote the record.

MF: What was your involvement in that?

FF: My involvement was to make sure that I’m on the record to make the record complete.

Watch: Public Enemy ft Brother Ali – Get Up Stand Up

MF: The Grammys happened not too long ago and Public Enemy is one of the groups that come up whenever people talk about the worst Grammy snubs. What’s your opinion of institutions like the Grammys when it comes to hip-hop, are they just giving awards to the songs that offend white people the least?

FF: Honestly, to tell you the truth, I haven’t watched the Grammys in a while. I didn’t even watch the Grammys this year. A lot of people ask me, ‘Hey Flav, are you going to the Grammys?’ I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because right now I don’t have a reason to.’

Any other time I went it was to support my friends that were being nominated. But the reason why I didn’t go this year was because I felt like I wanted to be home with my family and not only that, but I’m not being nominated or presenting or anything.

MF: Well, how do you view the hip-hop landscape of today? Do you think it’s moved in a more positive or negative direction since groups like yours first hit the scene?

FF: It’s mixed up between positive and negative and that’s what hip-hop has always been. You had your positive elements and you had your negative elements and to this day, even though rap music is a lot different and the beats are a lot different, the element is still the same.

You still have your positive element and you do have your negative element and that’s because you have a lot of people that do live positive and then you have a lot of people that live negative in their neighbourhood. So when everybody writes their record, they write about what they see and the way that they live. But everyone’s opinions are always respected by Flavor Flav.

MF: Keeping with that thread, Chuck has said that Public Enemy is the security of the hip-hop party. Would you say that’s a thankless job or do you feel like PE get their dues?

FF: The only answer I have to that question is…Public Enemy, we do our job. No matter what. If that’s the way that Chuck views it, then that’s the job that we’re doing and we do it well.

MF: What do you guys have in store for Australia in terms of doing your job?

FF: We plan to make you guys come out, give you a good show, leave you smilin’ and sweatin’, and leave you with a lifelong memory. We have a lot of energy in store to dump on you guys.

MF: What happens between the Flavor Flav speaking to us right now and Flavor Flav the flamboyant, energetic entertainer onstage with Public Enemy? How does that mode switch on? Do you just eat different Lifesavers like the old days?

FF: Let me tell you something, man, honestly, there’s no real difference. There’s no real big difference in it, because the Flavor Flav that you’re talking to right now on the phone is the same old Lifesaver-eatin’ Flav that’s right now on stage that you see.

See Public Enemy on their upcoming Australian tour this March – details below. The band will also be appearing as part of the lineup for Golden Plains Festival 2014. ‘Get Up Stand Up’ is available to download now.

Public Enemy Australian Tour Dates

Sunday, 2nd March 2014

HQ, Adelaide

Tix: Via Metropolis Touring

w/Mantra and DJ Sanchez

Monday, 3rd March 2014

The Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Tix: Via Metropolis Touring

w/Mantra and DJ MzRizk

Tuesday, 4th March 2014

The Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Tix: Via Metropolis Touring

w/Citizen Kay and DJ MzRizk

Wednesday, 5th March 2014

Metro Theatre, Sydney

Tix: Via Metropolis Touring

w/Citizen Kay

Thursday, 6th March 2014 — CANCELLED

Newcastle Panthers, Newcastle

Tix: Via Metropolis Touring

Friday, 7th March 2014

The Hi Fi, Brisbane

Tix: Via Metropolis Touring

w/Citizen Kay and Impossible Odds

Saturday, 8th March – Monday, 10th March 2014

Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, VIC

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